Tuesday, 31 May 2011

Hats and Blondies

I like hats. Basically, as soon as anyone I know announces they're getting married I start thinking about what sort of hat I want to wear and how I can create an outfit around it.

(After congratulating them, obv. I'm not entirely self-obsessed.)

But... hats are expensive and I am poor. And if you buy one there's the potential horror of someone else having the same one. (I think my mother scarred me for life by dressing me in the same clothes as my sister when we were little. I would rather turn up at a wedding in a boiler suit than be wearing the same as someone else...)

As a result, I quite like vintage for weddings. Unique and, if you put a bit of leg-work in, often cheaper. And you can say, when people ask where your outfit's from, 'it's vintage, dahling' and feel chic (even if you got it from Oxfam).

Despite all this, the dress came first for the wedding I'm going to next weekend. It's an LK Bennett frock with big pink roses on and is a delight. But I couldn't find a hat. Lots of pink hats/fascinators/head things but all slightly the wrong colour.

So, I trundled over to Hammersmith Vintage Fair* the other weekend and found myself a white hat, and then to VV Rouleaux and found myself the right coloured ribbon. And have combined the two, teaching myself how to make little teeny tiny ribbon roses in the process. Bound to be a useful skill...

Here's the hat before, with a lovely big 80s bow on the back.

And afterwards, bow removed and little pink roses and a bit of trimming to the veil added.

I now just have to figure out how to position the veil to cover the wonderful coldsore that's appeared on my face...

In other weekend news, I also made these blondies. 

Believe it or not, they are mostly made of chickpeas! I spotted the recipe over at Chocolate-Covered Katie (whose blog is full of intriguing recipes, and is currently running a series on vegan desserts!) last week and managed about three days before I had to make it, despite it being late on Monday night when I should really have been doing something constructive.

The recipe's here and I can confirm they really do taste amazing. Possibly a little bit too nutty for me, as I have a complicated relationship with peanut butter (possibly to blame for today's coldsore...) but I'm definitely going to have a play with the recipe to see if I can make it more me-friendly. I have an inkling cashew nut butter might be the way forward...

*I've actually got some free tickets for the next one which I can't use - anyone London based and free on the 5th June let me know and I'll put them in the post!

Friday, 27 May 2011

Vegetarian Food from a Carnivore

Apparently I look like a vegetarian. 

I'm not.

I mean, I don't walk around in a Gaga-esque meat dress proclaiming my passion for steak, but similarly I don't wear 'I love broccolli' t-shirts. Nonetheless, people often assume I'm vegetarian and then are surprised when I get excited about sausages.

Just recently, though, I have got quite interested in vegetarian and vegan food. Partly to give me new ideas to get me through my veg box every week (and the obvious health/cost benefits) but also because I just like eating and finding out about new food and things to cook. After all, pasta seemed exotic 'til quite recently (it still is to my father) and I'm very worried about all the other wonderful food that might exist that I just don't know about...

There are two blogs that I keep coming back to at the moment for interesting ideas: Keeping Healthy, Getting Stylish, and Oh She Glows, both of which are worth following for inspiration and deliciousness.

It's also National Vegetarian Week right now and I've realised that, quite accidentally, I haven't eaten any meat all week. In celebration of all things leafy and beany then, here are some of my meat-free culinary delights from the last seven days.

From the top, left to right...

Just chopped up cabbage and radish, grated carrot and a dressing made from mayonnaise, yoghurt, lemon juice and a splash of balsamic vinegar. This is a new favourite, definitely, and a fantastic way to make cabbage appealing. And you can chuck in whatever salady stuff you've got languishing in the fridge.

Green Smoothie 
Yes, I know it's brown... This was a chocolatey one. For lots of Green Smoothie ideas, have a look at the Green Monster Movement website, but the basic idea is banana, milk (dairy or non), spinach and ice in a blender. You honestly can't taste the spinach. I made this one with chocolate soya milk, and it also had some frozen berries, vanilla protein powder, lettuce and linseed in it, and then some fruit muesli sprinkled on top.

Chia Seed Pudding
This is a revelation. Chia seeds (you can find them in health food shops - I got mine in Whole Foods) turn into a puddingy, almost jelly-like substance when you soak them in liquid for a while. This was two tablespoons of chia seeds with chocolate soya milk poured over, left in the fridge for an hour or so. And then topped with a mixture of Greek yoghurt and berries.

Cheesey Pasty Bake
Based on Laura's recipe for Cheesy Leek and White Bean Bake I constructed this using the bean and nutritional yeast idea for the sauce, but stirring it through some cooked pasta instead.  I also threw in some frozen mixed veg (trying to use it up!) to bulk it up. I'm not vegan, so did put some real cheese on top and popped it under the grill for a while, but it would have been just as good without.

Chickpea Bake
I think I got the idea of roasting chickpeas from a Domestic Sluttery post ages ago. It's an inspired idea - they go all chewy and nutty. This was chickpeas roasted with some chestnut mushrooms, then stirred into a tomato sauce and topped with cheese.

Red Lentil Dhal
I always use Delia's recipe, but amend it based on what vegetables I have. Quick, easy, delicious comfort food, and just what you want when your oven's not working and the floorboards are up.

Um, and another picture of the chia pudding because it was pretty...

Happy long weekend everyone!

Thursday, 26 May 2011

Emergency Biscuits

I don't tend to buy biscuits. If there's an open packet in the house self control pretty much becomes a non-issue. (To call them biscuits or cookies? Can't decide. Watch me switch between the two...)

But then... sometimes... at the weekend... the gap between lunch and supper becomes an aching chasm and you need afternoon tea. Which demands biscuits.

Rejoice with me, then, that I found this recipe which is both allegedly healthy, speedy (good for biscuit-emergencies) and doesn't require eggs. The egg thing might seem unimportant, but recipes requiring an odd number of eggs are impossible to halve and therefore tend to result in oodles of cookies and the self-control thing mentioned above. With this recipe you can actually make the number of biscuits you want! (And just a couple extra for later, obviously.)

It's the BBC Good Food recipe for oat cookies with raisins, but it called Healthier Oat Cookies in my book-version, and I think is 'healthier' because you can use low-fat spread instead of butter (although if you like whole foods more than processed ones, butter would work too). They're a sort of cross between a biscuit and a flapjack.

The recipe crept even further up my favourites list when I realised you could play around with the ingredients very easily. Here's my chocolate-cinnamon version (I have a bit of a chocolate-cinnamon obsession) but I think lots of other flavour combinations would work, just make sure you get the 'dough' to the right consistency with the wet and dry ingredients.

Chocolate-Cinnamon Oat Cookies

100g olive oil spread (or butter, or whatever you have. I used Clover)
50g light muscovado sugar
2 tablespoons of honey
2 tablespoons of cocoa (or to taste, depending on how chocolatey you want them)
100g self-raising flour
100g oats
50g chocolate chips
1/2 teaspoon of cinnamon

Preheat the oven to 170C and line a baking sheet with grease-proof paper.

Put the spread, sugar and honey into a small saucepan and melt together over a low heat. Once it's liquid, add the cocoa powder and stir to dissolve.

Measure the flour, oats, chocolate and cinnamon into a mixing bowl, then pour the sugary cocoa liquid over and stir until combined.

Place spoonfuls onto your baking sheet, I find the full recipe will make about 10-12. They don't really spread much during cooking, flatten them a bit if you want a more cookie shape, or leave them rounded for a more rock-cake look (like my first batch).

Bake in the oven for about 15 minutes until they're browned on the bottom.

Monday, 23 May 2011

I do like to be beside the... South Bank.

This weekend I seemed to be mostly at the South Bank. I went to see The Cherry Orchard at the National Theatre on Saturday (good, long, bit bleak) and spotted the things happening around the South Bank Centre as part of the celebrations for the 60th anniversary of the Festival of Britain. So we went back on Sunday. There are events scheduled all summer (details here) but this weekend there were people doing a scrap-heap challenge with pianos in the Festival Hall, an urban beach, a parade of customised beach huts, record-breaking bunting, and a 'real food' market. And lots of other things.

I'm looking forward to the vintage weekend at the end of July.

The cat and I also did some gardening. The lovely people at Abel and Cole were giving away sunflower seeds which I managed to germinate on my window sill, so they're now in pots in the garden and I'm determinedly optimistic I'll get them as tall as the house. At least.

There was also, finally, baking. (I got my oven back! It's not the safest set-up, but it's working...) Details to follow...

Wednesday, 18 May 2011

Howling Fantods and Baggy Monsters

About nine hundred years ago I started reading Infinite Jest by David Foster Wallace. I still haven't finished it. Last year I read 73 books (yes, I kept a list) but this one has taken me two and half months and I'm still only halfway though.

It's a beast.

I've even been reading other books. I never do that. I'm strictly a one-book-at-a-time girl. But I've found myself getting distracted and wanting something lighter (Charlaine Harris, I'm looking at you...)

It's not helped by the fact that I'm cycling more at the moment, and so don't have that valuable tube-time to read. And that I live in a social whirl, of course. But they're just excuses. Usually I can find time to read regardless of what else I'm doing.

And it's not that I don't like it. I do. It's entertaining, insightful and clever. It is, of course, also baffling, repetitive and unwieldy at times. But I've read plenty of books like that.

But then, on my way home last night, I heard a chap called Mark O'Connell talking on the PM show on Radio Four about massive novels. (Yes, I listen to Radio Four on my bike. No, it's not dangerous. Yes, I am apparently a bit of a cliché.)

It was in response to a story about boys apparently not liking to read long books and you can hear the radio programme here (starts at 45 minutes in, lasts about four minutes). He was singing the praises of 'long and difficult and intermittently frustrating' novels and explaining how, he feels, they reflect life itself; having to work out the meaning as you go along and rarely having a definitive answer, sometimes full of 'riveting digression and interminable dead-ends'.

He also mentioned a quote from Henry James which I liked, comparing Tolstoy's works to 'large, loose, baggy monsters'. But that, rather than being afraid of them, readers should be prepared to 'blaze a path into the unknown in pursuit of these fantastic monsters.'

His enthusiasm inspired me to return to my copy of Infinite Jest, which had been staring at me balefully from the kitchen table and making me feel guilty every time I walked past. 

And I will finish it. Promise.

In the meantime, though, here's my not-very-artistic interpretation of a Howling Fantod, a word invented by Foster Wallace which is sort of interchangeable with the heebie jeebies, the screaming abdabs or, for Buffy fans, the wiggins.

Oh, and this made me laugh: People Holding Infinite Jest.

Monday, 16 May 2011

My House is Trying to Kill Me or, Consolatory Breakfast.

I'm not sure if it was to encourage me to bake less or get out more, but every time I touched anything in my kitchen it was giving me a little electric shock. Fun for a while, then a bit annoying, then something of a concern in case it upped its game and started giving me massive electric shocks.

So a Friendly Electrician came and poked about and tutted and tsked and then... turned everything off. Now I only have one socket that is guaranteed not to kill me, and a vast web of extension leads. I have to make difficult choices like 'washing machine or vacuum cleaner' and 'fridge or hairdryer'. Thankfully the lights work and I have a gas hob. And the electrician's coming back to Be Very Expensive and sort it out on Friday.

Biggest disaster though... no oven! And Sunday is Croissant Day. Imagine a Sunday without a croissanty breakfast. Doesn't bear thinking about. And the boyfriend will never get through all the marmalade.

So, in the absence of croissants or other baked or pastry-like items, I had to create something extra-delicious. Thankfully, Abel and Cole had sent me some asparagus in my veg box and there was some fancy bacon lurking in the fridge. Lo and behold: breakfast!

An English muffin, split and buttered, topped with (dry-fried 'til it's crispy) bacon, asparagus (boiled for just about five minutes, so it's soft but still got a little bit of bite) and soft poached eggs. 

Oh, and a new egg-poaching method, also from Abel and Cole. Use a deep frying pan full of simmering water, break the egg into a tea-cup, sit the tea-cup in the water and then tilt it to carefully pour the egg out. No more broken poached eggs!

Usually I'd throw some Hollandaise sauce on for an Eggs Benedict-esque affair, but I didn't have any and couldn't be bothered with making some. Instead, I just made sure my eggs were runny and popped a little knob of butter onto the asparagus so it would mix with the yolk once it started oozing out.

Didn't miss the croissants at all.

Tuesday, 10 May 2011

Quilts. Better than bonfires.

You know when you break up with someone and you get a haircut, drink too many blue drinks and then buy new bed sheets? (Possibly not all at once, but I like to be efficient.) What do you do with the old ones?

I'm not really a ritual bonfire sort of person (and I think you need forms in triplicate to burn things in London anyway) so I made a quilt instead. 

It took a long time. I did it all by hand and my sewing moods are flighty. But now it's beautiful and snuggly and looked very pretty on the washing line other day.

Vince also likes it. Hence it having to be washed in the first place. (Well, that and a macaroni cheese incident we won't go into.)

My mother taught me how to quilt. She has one she started when she was pregnant with me which is still not finished, so I think I'm probably due a prize for overtaking her. Anyway, the interweb informs me that the sort of quilting I do is called English Paper Piecing. It is, I'm quite sure, a millionty times easier than most other sorts and requires a lot less measuring. It's also good because it means you don't have to faff about with batting. 

Gratuitous very quick sketch of Vince on the quilt, having an unusually peaceful moment. He's usually too bitey to draw.

Friday, 6 May 2011

Thoughts on Visiting Exhibitions.

1. Don't go on Members' Evenings when there will be wine.
2. Don't wear new shoes that hurt your feet so much you have to put them in your handbag and scamper about bare-foot all night.*
3. Don't go with a friend who has Interesting Gossip which will distract you from the Old Things.

I went to see Afghanistan: Crossroads of the Ancient World at the British Museum the other night. However, I did not keep any of these things in mind and so can only tell you that there was a big, tinkly-jangly collapsible gold hat. 

And that the floor's cold.

*This is actually okay as there was jazz and I think it's a life-rule that anywhere there's live jazz there will also be a girl wandering around without shoes on.

Wednesday, 4 May 2011

Chocolate. Meringue. Cake.

It would appear I'm still only baking things with chocolate in. If there's not chocolate involved, I'm not interested.

Nigella has a lovely lemon meringue cake recipe in Feast which I've made before. It's good. (Although 'lemon curd' has to be referred to as 'lemon delight' in my house, after a certain someone decided that curd sounds like something he wouldn't like...) But, whilst eating it, I couldn't shake the thought that it might do very well transformed into a chocolate meringue cake.

So I did. Roaring success. Not that I'm going to suggest it's better. I mean, I'm no Nigella. Anyway, if you're craving something chocolatey then a lemon cake is rarely going to do the job. And ditto the other way round.

But's it's very good. Gooey and squidgy and crispy all at the same time.

All I did was take out the lemon and add cocoa to the sponge and meringue layers to make them chocolatey. I spent quite a while thinking deep thoughts about a chocolate equivalent to curd (you can buy it, but I couldn't find a recipe) before deciding that Nigella's (again) devil's food cake frosting was the closest I could imagine. I also added a bit more milk to the sponge, to make up for leaving out the lemon juice.

Cake Ingredients
125g soft unsalted butter
4 large eggs, seperated
300g caster sugar (plus a teaspoonful for sprinkling)
100g plain flour
25g corn flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon bicarbonate of soda
3 tablespoons of milk
3 tablespoons cocoa powder
1/2 teaspoon cream of tartar
150ml double cream

Frosting Ingredients
60ml water
15g dark muscovado sugar
90g unsalted butter
150g dark chocolate, chopped

Heat the oven to 200C and line and butter two 21cm sandwich tins.

To make the cake, mix together the egg yolks, 100g of the sugar, the butter (make sure it's soft), flour, cornflour, baking powder and bicarb in a bowl. Nigella likes to use her food processor but I don't have one, so use my trusty hand-mixer-whisk-thing and it always works fine. I suspect a firm arm and a fork would also do the job.

Add two tablespoons of the cocoa powder and the milk and mix again 'til it's all incorporated and looks like a fairly thick batter.

Spread into your prepared tins. This is a bit of a fiddle as it's quite thick, so probably best to dollop spoonfuls all around the bottom of the tins, then just spread them into each other. It'll be quite a thin layer, but that's okay. Try and get them as smooth as possible though, so your cake isn't too hilly.

Get another bowl and whisk your egg whites and cream of tartar until they create peaks (that stand up when you take the whisk out) then whisk in, a little bit at a time, the other 200g of sugar and the last tablespoon of cocoa powder. Pour half of the whisked egg white mix into each sandwich tin, over the top of the cake mix.

Try and get one of them as flat as possible (see comment re: hilly cakes, above) and then 'peak' the other one. This basically means pat it gently with a metal spoon so it forms little points and looks pretty and meringuey. Sprinkle your extra teaspoonful of sugar over the top, being careful to sprinkle evenly or your meringue will go wonky.

Pop them in the oven for 20-25 minutes. They'll be done when a cake skewer comes out without any sponge on it - poke the flat one, as no one will be able to see the holes later. Take them out and let them cool in their tins.

Make your frosting by melting the water, sugar and butter in a pan over a low heat.  Once it's all melted and starts to bubble, take the pan off the heat and add the chocolate. Give it a quick stir and leave to melt for a moment before giving it a good whisk until it's smooth.

Leave it for half an hour or so, at least until the cakes are completely cool, and I promise it will thicken up. Patience is a virtue.

Take the cake with the flat meringue out of its tin and put it, meringue down, onto whatever you want to serve it from. Spoon your cooled and thickened frosting over the top and spread evenly. Whip the double cream and dollop it onto the frosting, spreading that too. Then just place the other half of the cake on top, meringue side up.

I kept mine in the fridge 'til I was ready to serve it, but I think it probably would appreciate being allowed to get a bit closer to room temperature for maximum goo. And Boyfriend, of course, added MORE CREAM. I worry about his cholesterol. 

I did also make a chocolate orange bundt cake (now known as a bandit cake, as bundt is quite hard to say...), from Joy the Baker's fantastic recipe. But I forgot to take any more photographs after it came out of the tin so you'll just have to believe me that it was a thing of beauty and a delight forever*.

 (* a few hours, before it got eaten.)